Notre Dame (-12.5) at Purdue
This Saturday, the Fighting Irish open the month of October with yet another rivalry game.
At 8 o'clock, Notre Dame rolls into Ross-Ade Stadium to take on the Purdue Boilermakers.
The Irish are seeking their fourth straight victory over Purdue, and a continuation of their short two-game winning streak here in the 2011 season.
Let's preview the Boilermakers.
How Has Purdue Been Doing This Year?
It hasn't been a very good start for the Boilers this season. They come into this game with a 2-1 record but that is against the 181st toughest schedule according to Sagarin's rankings.
Purdue opened their season against Middle Tennessee State and was trailing late in the fourth quarter before a touchdown pass gave the Boilers the lead with under a minute to play. The Blue Raiders came back down field to try and tie it with a field goal, but their 47-yard attempt was blocked---preserving the victory for Purdue.
In week two, Purdue again struggled with a non-BCS opponent, ultimately losing to the Rice Owls.
It was a crushing loss for Purdue, as it was the Owl's first win over a BCS program since 2001 when they beat a 0-11 Duke team.
The next week, Purdue beat up on FCS opponent Southeast Missouri State 59-0, and have been waiting for the Irish after a bye week since.
Many were expecting the Boilermakers to be one of the weakest teams on the Irish schedule, and despite a 2-1 record, that may very well be the case. For example, Notre Dame has played 4 BCS teams this year and hasn't given up as many yards in one game as Purdue did to Middle Tennessee State.
Notre Dame Defense vs. Purdue Offense
On offense, Purdue returns a decent amount of starters, but just 1 of its top 4 receiving leaders---which also doesn't include Keith Smith who was denied a 14th year of eligibility after missing all but two games last year (25 receptions and 240 yards against Notre Dame the past three years).
At quarterback Purdue will likely start Caleb TerBush, while Robert Marve (who started last year against Notre Dame) should see the field at some point after coming back in week three from a knee injury suffered last season.
Also in the backfield Purdue has been using a bunch of running backs, but should rely heavily on Ralph Bolden and Akeen Shavers. Bolden is a quality runner who missed all of last year with an injury, while Shavers is a first-year JUCO transfer. They have combined for 409 yards (6.0 YPC) with 5 touchdowns so far this year.
On the line Purdue replaced two starters, but has four upperclassmen playing with a lot experience. At right tackle the Boilermakers are starting a sophomore who switched over from defense in the spring. The offensive line doesn't have any stand-outs and has given up 7 sacks so far in their first three games.
Obviously the numbers are inflated due to a horrible schedule thus far this season, but Purdue is currently sitting as the 9th best rushing team in the country. While I think it's obvious that Notre Dame won't be facing one of the best rushing attacks in the country this weekend, I believe the Boilermakers do have a dynamic duo at running back with Bolden and Shavers.
The problem for Purdue is that Notre Dame has been certifiably stingy on run defense this year, currently sitting as the 25th best team in the land giving up only 93 yards a game, while being one of a handful of teams to play only BCS schools this season.
Purdue would be helped out with a mobile threat at quarterback, but neither TerBush or Marve are going to do much damage. That means the Boilermaker running backs will have to shoulder the load against a Notre Dame defense that has given up only 237 yards on 75 carries and zero touchdowns from opposing running backs this season.
Purdue's bread and butter has been running the ball, and they will find it difficult to do so this weekend. If they are forced to give up on the run and put the ball in the quarterback's hands, this game could start to get ugly.
Purdue has been giving up sacks to bad teams and they don't have any proven receiving threats, nor a quarterback who has shown he can put the team on his shoulders. The fact that the Boilermakers will play both TerBush and Marve likely plays into Notre Dame's hands as well.
Notre Dame Offense vs. Purdue Defense
Purdue returns a lot of bodies and starters on defense with a nice mix of experience and youth. They have 4 seniors, 3 juniors, 3 sophomores, and a redshirt freshman in the mix right now.
Up front Purdue will miss All-Big Ten and NFL first round draft pick Ryan Kerrigan in a major way. Now, the end positions are the weakness of the defensive line, but the Boilermakers have two big bodies in Bruce Gaston and Kawann Short up the middle. Short is the star of the front line, coming off a 2nd Team All-Big Ten sophomore season in 2010.
At linebacker Purdue lacks size in a major way, but all three starters are pretty solid. Dwayne Beckford (Steele 3rd team All-Big Ten) and Joe Holland (4th team All-Big Ten) are capable of causing some problems.
Last year the Boilermakers were terribly inexperienced in the secondary, but in 2011 everyone returns. However, this is still likely the weakest part of the Purdue defense.
The safeties are nothing to write home about, but sophomore corner Ricardo Allen is a rising star after being a 2nd team freshman All-American last season.
It's safe to say that Purdue's front seven will be decent and stopping the run will definitely be their strength versus stopping the Irish passing game.
Despite limiting Southeast Missouri State to 8 completions and just 66 yards passing, Purdue still sits at 60th nationally in pass defense giving up 212 yards per game. In fact the Boilermakers gave up 572 yards passing and 4 touchdowns combined to both Middle Tennessee State and Rice.
If Purdue plays better than they have this season, they might be able to keep Notre Dame around 100 yards rushing, but it will be tough to do so. Through the air, Notre Dame should be able to push towards 300 yards if the mistakes and turnovers don't slow them down.
It's hard to get a good read on Purdue due to their weak early season schedule, but all signs are pointing to this being one of the bottom three teams in the Big Ten, and possibly the worst team on the Notre Dame schedule.
That doesn't mean this will be a walk over for the Irish (the Boilermakers' 2009 win over Ohio State should be a stern reminder of that), but there is very little indication that Purdue is even close to being a good football team right now.
First of all, the program has taken a step backward with Danny Hope at the reigns, and you're not likely to get much of an argument from Purdue fans about that.
The Boilermakers are 11-16 under Hope and just 6-10 in the Big Ten. Additionally, Purdue is 6-13 against BCS teams since Hope was hired and they have lost 7 of their past 9 games leading up to this Saturday's contest against Notre Dame.
Their 6 wins over the past year and a quarter have come against: Western Illinois, Ball State, Northwestern, Minnesota, Middle Tennessee State, and Southeast Missouri State.
Nevertheless, Purdue does have a handful of really good players and the advantage of playing a home game at night where the Irish are just 3-4 inside Ross-Ade Stadium in the post-Holtz era.
For Purdue to win, they will need the Irish to continue their turnover woes while also getting a career performance out of one or two players on their offense.
But I just don't see Purdue winning this one. They might keep it close, but it would take a really terrible performance (especially on defense) from Notre Dame for the Boilermakers to win.
In a lot of ways, Purdue's offense is similar to Pittsburgh's but the Boilermakers don't have Ray Graham on their team and I think Pitt is a little better coached offensively. And since Graham was kept under control and opponents have had a difficult time running on the Irish this season, Notre Dame should be able to take away Purdue's greatest strength offensively with Bolden and Shavers.
TerBush has nice numbers this season, but he is the third string quarterback and has never faced a defense like Notre Dame in his career. Marve is more talented, but we don't know how much he will play, and even still, he's pretty inconsistent.
After last week's performance, it's not hard to to envision Notre Dame struggling offensively for parts of this game, but if they can keep the turnovers down and put points on the board on every redzone opportunity, then the Irish have a chance to put a serious hurting on Purdue.
If Notre Dame remains committed to running the ball for a majority of the game, Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray should be good for 120-140 yards minimum.
With the offense likely continuing to spurn the hyper-speed attack, even more pressure falls on Tommy Rees to move the ball and put up points. The team can't move into Purdue territory two or three times and come away without points when the slower offense means fewer possessions.
Also be aware that Purdue has a big-legged kicker in Carson Wiggs who will attempt anything from 50+ yards away---so the Irish can ill afford to get into a game where field goals could be the difference.
This won't be a blowout, but a comfortable win nonetheless. We might see some backups for a series, but I would bet against it.
Notre Dame 34